Mia Goth shines bright in Ti West’s ‘X’ prequel: ‘Pearl’

Ryan Ranc, Senior Life & Arts Film Columnist

“Pearl,” directed by Ti West, follows Pearl (Mia Goth) at her family’s farm during the era of the Spanish Flu and World War I. After her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) departs to fight overseas, Pearl finds herself lusting for the life of a dancer on the big screen. As Pearl’s dreams crumble around her, so does her sanity, leading her down a murderous and splatter-filled rampage.

Goth gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the titular character Pearl. Considering that “Pearl” takes on a much more character-driven narrative than its predecessor “X,” it makes Goth’s job more complex compared to her role in the previous film. Even so, Goth builds up the character of Pearl with a gradual rise from innocent daughter to murderous psychopath.

In the beginning, Pearl feels similar to Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz” through her desire to leave the family farm and travel. As the story unfolds, her innocence fades and she begins her descent down a sinister path that ends in a murder-spree and the death of several characters she is close to.

The final indicator of Pearl’s collapsing mental state reveals itself in Goth’s impressive extended monologue about evil deeds, how she feels about her crimes and her feelings about her marriage. She admits everything to her sister-in-law, Misty (Emma Jenkins-Purro), who she unceremoniously hunts down with an ax in a moving one-take. Despite it feeling longer than a few minutes, audiences will find themselves hanging on to every word of Goth’s deliveries.

The approach to horror in “Pearl” feels subtle, utilizing emotional buildup around the characters before dropping audiences with a feeling equivalent to a cliff dive infused with jaw-dropping shock. The horror in “Pearl” kicks in halfway through the movie with the accidental murder of Pearl’s mother, which ultimately triggers Pearl’s affinity for killing.

This scene’s horror element stems from the trauma this family deals with. Another scene that occurs during the buildup to the horror is  when Pearl partakes in sexual activities with a scarecrow and fantasizes about her future affair. This scene feels eerie due to its cinematography and Goth’s lonely and mad performance.

“Pearl” captures an undeniably early, nostalgic film style. The footage feels grainy and colorful, much like the original “Wizard of Oz” movie. Much like “X,” “Pearl” picks a style and dials up the exaggeration, hence the very fantastical flair. The best example of a stylistic difference between “X” and “Pearl,” despite them being in the same franchise, would be the color of the blood. Blood in “X” is darker and richer, matching the early slasher vibe Ti West aimed to accomplish. However, the blood in “Pearl” is bright red and very saturated in order to replicate the artsy and otherworldly style of early color movies.

Audiences who like slower-paced, horror-filled character studies will prefer “Pearl” compared to its sex-filled, dark comedy predecessor. “X” and “Pearl” make for a perfect duology, and with a third movie confirmed to be in the works, it appears audiences will be in for a great trilogy. Regardless, Ti West continues to prove he knows the horror genre better than most independent directors, and Goth continues to prove that her acting and writing abilities are a treat to moviegoers everywhere.

4 ½ scarecrow affairs out of 5